|Democrats Botch Firing of Black Staffers
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 6/4/2003
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—If the Democratic National Committee can’t handle the next presidential campaign any better than it executed last week’s botched attempt to lay off a group of African-American staffers, it may as well concede the White House to George W. Bush in 2004, some key African-Americans leaders say.
Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the DNC Voting Rights Institute and Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager in 2000, expressed public disappointment with party officials after receiving word that 10 DNC staff members would be dismissed—all of them African-Americans.
“It’s outrageous,” she says. “They have been targeted for dismissal without anyone discussing this with members of the DNC Black Caucus or the Congressional Black Caucus. This would have a disastrous affect on the morale of Black Democrats across the country.”
And if that happens, it could spell trouble for Democrats, says Brazile, a political science professor at Georgetown University
“If they are unable to get this right, then they will be unable to get the Democratic strategy right to defeat George Bush in 2004,” Brazile declares.
Many are blaming Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe for the miscue.
“He’s liable to do something that’s racially insensitive again, which is going to complicate the ability of the Democratic Party to motivate Black people,” says Ron Walters, political science professor at the University of Maryland. “Terry McAuliffe doesn’t appear to have any Black people in his inner circle that when he makes a decision he can pass it by them and say, ‘How is this going to look?’”
DNC spokesman Jim Mulhall says the number released by the DNC to Brazile and others—including Minyon Moore, former DNC chief operating officer—has not been confirmed. However, he did not deny the accuracy of those numbers.
Mulhall did say that the DNC is looking at possible budget cuts.
“It’s been an ongoing process and basically it is so we can maximize and make the DNC the most efficient organization possible for the tough job we’ll have to do to beat George Bush,” he says.
After receiving public criticism from Brazile, DNC head McAuliffe apparently called off the firings—or at least delayed some of them. He refused to return repeated phone calls to the NNPA requesting comment.
Mulhall says the DNC has hired eight new staffers, five of whom are Black, including a Black press secretary. He says there will still be layoffs over the coming weeks, but there will be fewer than 10 and not all of them will be Black.
But Brazile remains cautious.
“The fact remains that the list that was read off to me contained African-Americans only,” she says. “I am grateful that the party decided not to lay off their distinguished hard-working African-Americans, some who have been in civil rights since the 1960s. Terry McAuliffe has assured me that no such list will ever reach his desk. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he had not signed off on this.”
Walters, the political scientist, says the blow up exposes DNC contempt for Black voters.
“Blacks don’t appear to have decision-making power. There is this matter of not consulting Black people before making these decisions,” Walters says. “The bottom line here is that it’s obvious to me that for all of the titles that Donna and [others] have, that somebody should be consulting them before they do this stuff.”
Moore, who served as White House political director in the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2000, says that during her tenure as chief operating officer at the DNC from early 2001 until August 2002, people of color made up at least half of the staff.
According to DNC officials, Blacks made up approximately 30 percent of the 170-member staff in 2001. But, with a series of layoffs, the staff is now down to 94 people, 26 of whom are Black (22 percent). An additional reduction of 10 would have taken the number of Blacks down to only 16 or 13 percent of the staff.
Meanwhile, Blacks continue to give 80 percent to 90 percent of its vote to Democrats.
Melanie Campbell, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group, observes:
“This further exacerbates the perception that the Democratic Party takes the African-American vote for granted. It does not help that situation at all. I understand the need to manage an organization and make operational decisions. But that also has to be done in such a way that you do not damage what’s supposed to be a part of your strong base.”
She isn’t the only one that holds that opinion.
“It’ll have more of an impact among Black party activist and grassroots people who work in the campaigns,” says Robert C. Smith, professor of political science at San Francisco State University. “I think at some point as the cycle unfolds that people will remember it. It will leave a bad taste in people’s mouths even after they say it was not the way it appeared to be.”
With new Republicans effort to reach Black voters, alienating African-Americans could be the Democrats’ worst nightmare, some observers say.
Says Walters, “What the Democratic Party has feared is dissatisfaction breaking out. That’s why this is inexplicable to me.”